Monday, July 8, 2013

Kenko: on instabiliity

No. 25

"The world is as unstable as the pools and shallows of Asuka River.  Times change and things disappear; joy and sorrow come and go; a place that once thrived turns into an uninhabited moor; a house may remain unaltered, but its occupants will have changed.  The peach and the damson trees in the garden say nothing--with whom is one to reminisce about the past?  I feel this sense of impermanence even more sharply when I see the remains of a house which long ago, before I knew it, must have been imposing.

Whenever I pass by the ruins of the Kyogoku Palace, the Hojoji, and similar buildings, it moves me to think that the aspiration of the builders still lingers on, though the edifices themselves have changed completely.  When Fujiwara no Michinaga erected so magnificent a temple, bestowing many estates for its support, he supposed that his descendants would always assist the emperor and serve as pillars of the state; could he have imagined that the temple would fall into such ruin, no matter what times lay ahead?  The Great Gate and the Golden Hall were still standing until recent years, but the Gate burned during the Showa era, and the Golden Hall soon afterwards fell over.  It still lies there, and no attempt has been made to restore it.  Only the Muryoju Hall remains as a memento of the temple's former glory.  Nine images of Amida Buddha, each sixteen fee tall, stand in a row, most awesomely.  It is extremely moving to see, still plainly visible, the plaque inscribed by the Major Counselor Kozei and the door inscription by Kaneyuki.  I understand that the Hokke Hall and perhaps other buildings are still standing.  I wonder how much longer they too will last?

Some buildings that lack even such remains may survive merely as foundation stones, but no one knows for certain to what they once belonged.  It is true in all things that it is a futile business attempting to plan for a future one will never know."

--Kenko --
from Essays in Idleness
trans. Donald Keene

I listen to others talk and am surprised to see how many people make plans for ten, fifteen, or even  twenty years ahead.  Inevitably they assume that nothing will change, that all will go then as it goes  now.  How many stock market crashes have occurred since the Great Crash in the '20s?  But, once the stock market begins climbing up to record levels, investors forget that the reverse not only could happen, but has happened in the recent past and are, therefore, shocked and caught unprepared once the bottom drops out again. 

The Taoists teach that change is inevitable: when times are bad, we should persist, for they shall soon improve, and when times are good, we should enjoy it, and prepare for a downturn.

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